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Nov 14, 2016 10:58 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Cause Of Massive Fish Kill In Shinnecock Canal Not Clear

A massive fish kill occured in the Shinnecock Canal overnight.   DANA SHAW
Nov 15, 2016 5:21 PM

A massive fish kill carpeted the Shinnecock Canal, both north and south of the locks, with countless dead menhaden, or bunker, on Monday morning.

Fish kills are a natural phenomenon that occur from time to time in bodies of water and are typically caused by a lack of dissolved oxygen when a massive number of fish gather. The cause is unclear, but most believe the bunker were chased by predatory fish, like bluefish and striped bass, through the Shinnecock Inlet, up into the Shinnecock Bay and into a closed lock at the canal, where they were trapped in enormous numbers.

“I think the bunker were so thick along the beach that they came into the inlet and got trapped, because the locks were closed,” Southampton Town Trustee Bill Pell said on Monday morning. “They had no place to go—and the bluefish and striped bass hammered on them.”

Dr. Chris Gobler, a professor in Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said that in the 20 years he has lived in the area, he has never seen a fish kill in the canal.

“The canal is a confined area, and when the locks are closed, water isn’t moving,” Dr. Gobler said on Monday. “Even when there aren’t any fish in there, water is still, and the oxygen levels drop. Maybe not to fish kill levels. But when you add fish in there, that knocks the oxygen levels down even further.”

Dr. Gobler said some people, like Mr. Pell, are hypothesizing that the large number of bunker along the ocean-facing beaches that were being preyed upon by whales, dolphins, bluefish and striped bass were pushed up into the bays and tried to swim north, trapping themselves after running into the canal locks.

Populations of bunker are up this year in general, mainly because of fishing regulations imposed south of Long Island in places like Virginia, according to Dr. Gobler.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman on Tuesday addressed two major misconceptions. The first, he said, is that this particular fish kill is a sign that there is something wrong with the bay or canal—but it’s a sign of quite the opposite, he said. “We’re seeing the bunker population coming back up to where it use to be,” he said. “The bunker fish play an important role in the food chain, which will help rebuild the striped bass population. It’s a positive thing.”

The second misconception is that the event is over and done with because the bluefish have migrated west—but there is still a tremendous number of bunker in the bay, he said, adding, “The worst of this may be yet to come, and that is when the dead fish come back to the surface.” The dead fish sank at around 11 a.m. on Monday morning, so many people like Mr. Schneiderman said they expect those fish to resurface starting sometime on Wednesday.

Town Trustees Ed Warner and Scott Horowitz met with Mr. Schneiderman on Tuesday morning to come up with a plan for future instances so that nobody has to scramble to get the lock opened or to clean up the dead fish.

“Right now, we’re in a period where we just have to wait and see whether the fish float to the top,” Mr. Horowitz said on Tuesday. “People are going to keep an eye on it from the air and the sea. We’re also going to keep an eye on the tides and prevailing winds.

“At this point, it’s not a public health issue,” he added.

On Monday, former Southampton Town Trustee Jon Semlear, who works as a commercial fisherman and makes a large portion of his yearly income from bunker, went to the canal to help out with the cleanup efforts, after hearing about it from a friend. Even though the fish were dead, Mr. Semlear said, they were in perfect condition for selling. “The water temperature prevented them from spoiling,” he said. “They’re great for lobster bait.”

Mr. Semlear sold the fish to Will Caldwell, who catches, buys and sells bunker to lobstermen in Maine. “Willie handled 70,000 pounds from various fishermen,” Mr. Semlear said of the number of fish scooped up on Monday. “When the locks were opened, the tide ran, and the fish dispersed. Today, I was able to get 3,000 pounds. I believe there were seven men involved in the harvesting.”

According to Mr. Caldwell, he ended up with 80,000 pounds of bunker between Monday and Tuesday, before the fish got rotten, paying the fishermen 16 cents per pound—a total payout of nearly $13,000.

Mr. Caldwell estimated that there were about five million pounds of dead bunker in the canal as a result of this fish kill.

Mr. Schneiderman said at 8 p.m. on Monday night, the canal was filled with fish. “It was literally like you could walk across it,” he said.

Worried that there would be a repeat fish kill, Mr. Schneiderman said he contacted Suffolk County officials and was able to get the lock operators to open and close the locks from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. to not only allow the fish to move north through the canal and into the Peconics but to also help add oxygen to the water in the canal.

“It actually may have worked—they did not die off last night,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

But the fish that did die on Monday have piled up at the bottom of the Shinnecock Bay, and at some spots, Mr. Schneiderman said, they are 5 feet deep. Those fish are expected to resurface sometime soon.

Because it’s November and not August, fewer people will be inconvenienced, but when the fish do in fact resurface, Mr. Schneiderman said it’s going to reek. “There may be beaches that have massive quantities of decomposing fish,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to clean them up.”

Mr. Schneiderman said the fish will more than likely be taken to the Hampton Bays Transfer Station, and crews plan to mitigate the odor by using lime and wood chips.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation is going to assist in the cleanup efforts if the fish end up in marshlands. They are also in the process of testing the water and a phytoplankton sample for pathogens, nutrients and pesticides, to see if that factored into the fish kill.

As to whether a fish kill of this magnitude will happen again in the canal, Mr. Schneiderman said he doesn’t think so.

“We may not see this even happen in our lifetime, but we’ll have a sense of what worked and what didn’t,” he said.

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Like many of us, they didn't want to live in a Trump world. Understandable.
By johnj (667), Westhampton on Nov 14, 16 3:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
Then leave
By realistic (408), westhampton on Nov 14, 16 5:36 PM
2 members liked this comment
who should leave? Those that grumble over the least little thing? Those that want the beach all to themselves? I say those that put up the unfriendly hedges should leave if they don't like the people already here. Oh I see, the hedges remind them of the city.
By summertimegal (58), southampton on Nov 17, 16 2:55 PM
I think the answer to this is in the picture. Marinas! There is a lot of winterizing of boats going on right now. That involves anti freeze and other hazardous chemicals. I would take a close look at Hampton Watercraft & Marine as the slick coming out of that place during the season is always bad.
By G (295), Southampton on Nov 14, 16 3:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
Sounds like you've got it all figured out, Professor. We can close this case.
By Pacman (55), East Quogue on Nov 14, 16 4:16 PM
You mean the non toxic antifreeze used in boats is actually toxic?
By Draggerman (650), Southampton on Nov 14, 16 8:24 PM
I was waiting for someone like "G" to blame it on something rather than mother nature doing its thing. (please don't mention if the locks weren't there.....). Winterizing of boats? Really...they never did that in past years. Next you are going to say it looks like Nassau County or this is why we need new septic tanks or we need a permit to take the photo. Sometimes, things just happen...get over it.
By The Real World (322), southampton on Nov 14, 16 4:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
Sounds like you've got it all figured out, Professor. We can close this case.
By johnj (667), Westhampton on Nov 14, 16 4:50 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thanks for bringing up septic tanks Real World. There is a "cafe" at the Marina there. Maybe the one bathroom it has for all it's customers drains directly into the canal? Maybe the bunker stopped in for the Sysco delivered crappy food & died? It does not look like Nassau County, It looks like HB. Except now it looks like a dump full of dead smelly fish instead of just a smelly dump.
By G (295), Southampton on Nov 14, 16 4:46 PM
“I think the bunker were so thick along the beach that they came into the inlet and got trapped because the locks were closed,” Southampton Town Trustee Bill Pell said on Monday morning

I think Mr. Pell meant "canal" and not "inlet" as he was quoted saying...

The tide gates are the conduit for red tide entering the Shinnecock Bay from the Peconic. They also cause a unnatural tide cycle within the bay and increase flooding during storms, especially Nor'easters.
By FoReel (18), Hampton Bays on Nov 14, 16 7:33 PM
No , Bill is correcT , the bunker CAME in the INLET from the OCEAN, got pushed across the bay and into the CANAL by bluefish. Mother Nature is a cruel beotch at times. Your comments on the canal are just plain wrong.
By bigfresh (2903), north sea on Nov 15, 16 10:52 AM
2 members liked this comment
I get the biggest kick out of obvious newbies showing off their knowledge of mother nature, the canal, the inlet, oh foReel your knowledge of the tide cycle is just facinating!
By summertimegal (58), southampton on Nov 17, 16 3:03 PM
Thank god we voted for clean water. They can use CPF funds to clean this mess up.
By Draggerman (650), Southampton on Nov 14, 16 8:27 PM
There's no big conspiracy here - the bluefish pushed the bunker into the canal, the locks were closed, oxygen got used up, fish died. It's pretty basic science.
By Nature (2952), Southampton on Nov 14, 16 8:27 PM
3 members liked this comment
Dead fish on both sides of the locks. Did the blue fish come from both the north and the south to use the locks as dead ends on either side?
By SlimeAlive (587), Southampton on Nov 15, 16 6:48 AM
The fish kill was on the south side of the locks.
By Nature (2952), Southampton on Nov 15, 16 9:48 AM
If you believe that these fish hit a dead end and the O2 depleted, you're still believing the media. The water flows here. It's something else. Could be the moon, tectonic activity, bad water, but it wasn't a dead end
By SlimeAlive (587), Southampton on Nov 15, 16 5:59 AM
I watched literally hundreds of thousands of fish stream from the ocean side to the bay for hours,then when the locks closed the fish were trapped and started to swim in circles. there were so many trapped in still water that they quickly depleted the oxygen and died
By joe hampton (2867), Hamptons on Nov 15, 16 8:21 AM
2 members liked this comment
The water flows when the locks are opened ...

By AndersEn (137), Southampton on Nov 16, 16 2:52 PM
More bait to catch more fish with.
By pw herman (661), southampton on Nov 15, 16 8:42 AM
I wonder if the real estate agents selling those new canal front condos will include these photos...
By Nature (2952), Southampton on Nov 15, 16 9:49 AM
2 members liked this comment
No but I would be the people buying into those condos will sue for the closure of the canal. "see your Honor, its a health hazard!"
By squeaky (286), hampton bays on Nov 15, 16 11:15 AM
this looks fishy to me !
By typical (61), southampton on Nov 15, 16 12:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Maybe it's me but if tens of thousands of fish are stuck and dying in the closed locks, wouldn't the Lockmaster open the locks?
Couldn't sleep through that fiasco....
By Rayman (47), southampton on Nov 15, 16 7:13 PM
i think that this is not a problem/bad thing / big deal

freak circumstance

fish stock unaffected
By adkvkdiesldkrive (9), southampton on Nov 15, 16 8:03 PM
Are the locks manned 24/7 ?
By AndersEn (137), Southampton on Nov 16, 16 2:54 PM
There is no lockmaster or lock attendant. The locks are automatically opened and closed by tidal action.
Nov 16, 16 3:01 PM appended by highhatsize
to Taz (infra): Apologies. Many years ago I used to fish from the banks of the canal. I was never aware of the presence of a lockmaster. I stand corrected.
By highhatsize (3290), East Quogue on Nov 16, 16 3:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
Duh. Anyone who traverses the Shinnecock canal between Shinnecock Bay and Peconic Bay knows that there is a lockmaster on duty, especially when the locks are closed for over 4 hours twice a day to allow passage of watercraft through the locks. HHS again speaking of which he knows not.
By Taz (251), East Quogue on Nov 16, 16 3:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Someone should review the policy related to when the locks can be opened. There is little traffic this time of year. They should look at installing some kind of monitor that would inform the lock operator that a large number of fish are present in the canal. Instead of defaulting to leaving the locks closed during this time possibly the locks could be opened and closed to relieve the condition and restore some oxygen to the canal.
By Ernie (66), Hampton Bays on Nov 17, 16 11:47 AM
Shinnecock Hills residents mentioned something about a person of interest who was found to have some kind of equipment in his home that aided in the depletion of oxygen in the water? Is this apocryphal?
By Vikki K (483), Southampton on Nov 18, 16 11:24 AM
Is it possible for oxygen to be depleted from H2O? If the oxygen was depleted, the canal would have been filled with hydrogen. The water flows swiftly there when the locks are closed. That in combination that water is made of oxygen, I can't see where this case is closed?
By even flow (450), East Hampton on Nov 18, 16 4:58 PM
You can't be serious.

When hydrogen burns, the product is water. Electrolysis is required to dissociate a water molecule. Oxygen exists in a diatomic state due to it's double bond.

Your credibility is hereby shot.
By Mr. Z (9304), North Sea on Nov 21, 16 7:32 PM
Jeez evenflow, didn't learn much in high school chemistry or biology did you ? Fish use the molecular (O2) oxygen dissolved in water, not the atomic oxygen that is part of the H2O water molecule...
By jperrier (47), Springs on Nov 21, 16 7:22 PM
Call NOAA, they'll know why.
By lirider (164), Hampton Bays on Nov 24, 16 7:52 AM